a peek inside the fishbowl

24 Aug, 2019

In loving memory

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

Mary Tomkins

(September 18, 1938 – August 19, 2019)

[For context, this is the eulogy I gave at Mary’s funeral on August 24]

Gary, Mark and I were here a few days ago, making arrangements. One of the items we looked at were thank you cards. Those are likely to come your way by sometime next year. We were deciding whether or not to have some text preprinted inside: “Thank you for your kindness in these difficult times” or “We are grateful for your friendship in this time of sorrow.”

I voted for leaving them blank inside.

That’s when Gary chimed in: “She is the writer in the family,” he said. I guess I am, I mean that’s what it says on my resume, but I never pictured myself writing thank you cards to send to family and friends after my mother-in-law’s funeral.

We know that death eventually comes for everyone, yet no one expects the day to actually arrive. It’s horrible and devastating, yet at the same time, I try to remember that it is grief, sadness, and darkness that helps us truly appreciate joy, happiness, and light.

One of the things I always think about when someone dies is the fact that they didn’t know that last Christmas was their last. If you knew that next Christmas was going to be your last, would you do anything differently? What would you spend more time doing? What would you spend less time doing? I know this is something I will be thinking a lot about in the weeks and months to come.

I want to share a few things that I know to be true about Mary.

She was very fun to prank.

When I was pregnant with Emma – over 20 years ago now – we decided to spring our pregnancy reveal on Mary and Gary during a visit to Orillia, where they were living at the time. It was Mary’s birthday, and so we chose to use this as our vehicle to let them know I was pregnant. We went to a craft store and purchased some light purple yarn and put it in a gift bag along with a pattern for a baby sweater. Of course, we found it very hard to keep a straight face as we give her the gift. She pulled out the yarn, totally puzzled. She looked at it. “You want me to knit you a sweater or something?” she asked incredulously. That’s when she looked at the pattern. I watched her face as she suddenly made the connection. She jumped up and hugged us both. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so happy.

Since we have two daughters I should also tell you the story of how we told Mary and Gary that we were pregnant with Sarah. Once again we were back in Orillia. It was morning. The coffee was brewing and we were all milling around the kitchen. Mark and I snuck downstairs to the giant chest freezer in the basement, took out a hamburger bun, turned on the oven, and placed it on the rack. Pretty soon the kitchen filled up with the scent of fresh bread.

“Did you put something in the oven?” asked Gary.
“No,” said Mary.
“Well there is something in the oven,” said Gary.
At this point Mary started to panic a little. What’s all this about the oven? Who’s using the oven? Why would someone be using the oven?
Mary said, “I am using the toaster oven to reheat a bran muffin and I don’t know what you’re talking about. WHAT DO YOU MEAN THERE’S A BUN IN THE OVEN?”
Mark and I were trying our best not to laugh. By this time Gary had clued in and had started to chuckle. Mary was left still wondering why the oven was on, but within a few additional seconds she finally got the joke. There was a bun in the oven. My oven. I was pregnant! Hugs all around.

Mary really wanted daughters but all she got was a couple of stinky boys who roughhoused, didn’t like to go shopping and had no interest in baking or any of the other domestic arts she excelled at. She didn’t have any young women to spoil until her granddaughters came into her life. Did I mention she REALLY wanted daughters?

I have a memory of a baby shower gift she gave to us before we knew the gender of our baby. The gift wrap had a pattern on it, it was text, actually: IT’S A GIRL. She insists that she didn’t notice this when she was buying it but I think it clearly revealed her innermost desires.

Mary was one of the kindest and most generous people I’ve ever known, and I’m not just talking about birthday money and Christmas gifts. Sometimes it wasn’t immediately obvious. Emma reminded me of something Mary told the girls over a special lunch earlier this summer. You know how when you pay for your groceries at the store, sometimes they ask if you want to donate money to charity? And if you do, they write your name on a colourful piece of paper to stick up on a wall? When Mary gave at the cash register, when she was shopping alone, she never signed her own name on that paper, she wrote the names of her granddaughters – Emma and Sarah.

Not that long ago she picked up a glasses cleaning cloth at Home Hardware for me that has a photo of dogs printed on it. She bought it because she was thinking of me and she knew I liked dogs too.

I have a mother, but Mary, she was my mom. She patiently showed me how to crochet and knit but never bugged me about it or harboured great expectations. She loved a good book, and we often swapped recommendations. She loved a good deal! We teased her about the boxes from Amazon that piled up in the garage. She loved to laugh and she always had a big smile for us.

“Where’s my hug?” she’d say; arms open wide. You couldn’t come or go without one.

Another story: A few Christmases ago we exchanged names and Mary was my assigned recipient. Mary had a lot of interests, she loved to bake, and do puzzles. As I mentioned, she loved to read. She was crafty too – very creative – great at knitting, crochet, sewing, painting. You name it. She awhile she even did rug hooking. She called herself the happy hooker. For many years she was into ceramics and had her own kiln at home. In fact, she had two. There was no end of gifts I could buy her but that year, we decided to create wishlists on the Chapters website to make gift-giving a little easier.

She emailed me a link to her list. It had two items on it, one was a small coin purse and the other was an apron with “never trust a skinny cook” written on it. I was a little surprised by this choice, but I figured since she had put it on her list it was something she really wanted. And wish lists don’t lie, right?

So picture the scene. She’s unwrapping my gift with the kind of anticipation that is reserved exclusively for Christmas and birthdays. She tears off the paper, opens the box, pulls out the apron, and reads the inscription: Never trust a skinny cook. I saw the expression on her face. It was painfully obvious that she’d never laid eyes on this apron before and I had just insulted my mother-in-law in the most egregious way.

I tried explaining, but I think her shock prevented her from truly hearing me out. I never did figure out how that apron got on her wish list and I never saw it after that Christmas!

What else do I know about Mary? I know that she was very proud of her son, Mark, and she deeply appreciated his help, especially in recent times. She loved her granddaughters fiercely but her son meant the world to her for many reasons.

I loved Mary as family, and as a friend, if that makes any sense.

What else do I know about Mary? I know the best thing about her eventually brought about the end of her story. She died from a massive cardiac event, which can only mean one thing. Her heart was too big.

If you’re looking for a way to remember Mary, may I suggest sitting down and assembling a puzzle with your family, baking up a batch of her famous butter tarts (I’m sure her sister Marina will share the recipe with me), or giving someone you love a big hug… just make sure you give it all you got and let that hug really sink in. Because that’s the way Mary would do it.

4 Responses to "In loving memory"

1 | Amy

August 24th, 2019 at 1:07 pm


So sorry for your loss. Hugs

2 | Wanda

August 24th, 2019 at 3:49 pm


May all your happy memories bring you some comfort. My condolences to you and your family.

3 | Katie

August 24th, 2019 at 5:30 pm


Sorry for your loss. Sending condolences and love.

4 | Kristine

August 29th, 2019 at 1:39 pm


My sincere condolences to you and your family. She sounds like such a lovey person. Wishing you strength and comfort during this difficult time.

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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